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Finding and losing George - Daniel Silliman

I had this frog, a pet frog. I don't remember his name now, but he was green and brown. He was lumpy -- warty -- with loose, smelly skin and huge back legs.

I was 8. I found him in the creek. I thought he was the greatest pet ever.

I thought it would be really cool if he was a bullfrog, just because "bullfrog" sounds pretty cool, and sounds like an awesome version of a normal frog. Like, a bullfrog would be similar to normal frogs, but with jowls and the personality of a professional wrestler.

My frog was just a normal frog, though.

Did we call him George? I think maybe we called him George, because my Mom would sometimes joke that George was the other kid in the family, the one that got left behind while shopping and was never heard from again.

I'm not sure. Maybe -- anyway, George was a normal frog and I thought he was great, at least as great as a non-bullfrog frog can be, and I kept him in a raised garden bed in the back yard. We had strawberries planted there, blocked in by railroad ties, and George could hop around, but he couldn't get over the railroad ties, so it was like a strawberry patch and paradise and a frog pen.

We weren't a big pet family. In first grade, a few years before the frog, the teacher sent some students home with goldfish. I got one. It was some sort of in-class project, and then, at the end of the school year, the teacher gave the fish away. I remember walking home holding a sandwich bag with a little fish in it. At the beginning of the next school year, my mom put the fish back in a little baggy and tried to get the teacher to take it back.

Mom let me have the frog, though. It was probably even her idea. The frog fit into this, sort of, nature vs. nature vision of organic gardening she had, like the frog was supposed to eat something harmful and save the strawberries. It was "and-then-the-old-lady-swallowed-the-fly" logic, which I didn't really follow, but it included a frog, so that was great.

After a few days, though, George vanished.

He was gone. He wasn't hiding, using his warty-camouflage. He wasn't underneath a big leaf. He was gone. Without warning, without trace, there was just an empty space where he used to be.

No one else would have known that anything was missing, from the little raised-bed in the back yard. Everything looked normal -- the plants lined up in a row and the soaker hose leaking water. But I looked at the garden and immediately saw a empty space, a terrible void, a vacancy leaving me, standing there, all alone and acting crazy.

I panicked. I thought he'd been eaten by an angry bird. I thought he'd been murdered by a mean cat. I thought I should have kept him inside, to keep him safe. I ran around the bed, looking for a frog that didn't exist. I wailed and spent hours sitting by the side of the strawberry patch, just sort of looking at the place my pet should have been.

It was crushing. I felt cheated. I felt guilty, too, like I had done it: I had betrayed my frog, getting him killed. Where humans talk about "Judas," frogs, from now on, were going to say, "Daniel."

I found George. About three hours later. I found a disturbed spot in the soft ground and he was there, buried in the ground.

The joy at finding my frog was destroyed by the unanswered questions: What happened? Where was he going? Why was he buried? Was he OK? Was this my fault?

I lost him again a couple of days later, and then found him again, and then lost him for good.

I was hurt, lost, guilty, confused and frustrated. Finding and losing George just left me with this question, a question that couldn't even be phrased, but was all swollen up in my head like a piece of bread in a glass of milk.

Later, reading Philip K. Dick, a science fiction writer, I recognized the feeling. Dick wrote: "They ought to make a binding clause that if you find God, you get to keep him."

Mom said it wasn't that George hated me, it was just that George wasn't a normal frog, after all, he was a digging frog. There was nothing theological or personal, about the disappearing frog. It was just nature.

I believed it.

Now that I think about it, it's kind of a suspicious story, and it was connected to some concoction about how I couldn't keep George in my bedroom, but I bought it at the time. George was a digging frog. Somehow that made sense, and I was just sad he was gone.

Daniel Silliman covers crime for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at dsilliman@news-daily.com.